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Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver

Red Bird: Poems

by Mary Oliver

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Z really liked this first foray into Mary Oliver. She's a great bridge for non-kid-targeted contemporary poetry for wordnerds, especially nature-loving ones. ( )
  beckydj | Oct 8, 2013 |
This slim book of poetry – recommended by a good friend – contains 61 poems. Until this recommendation, I had never heard of this poet, but I really do appreciate finding another poet who reminds me of my favorite, Billy Collins. Mary Oliver’s Red Bird contains poems with simple language, clear imagery, with profound insights into the human condition.

The best thing I can do is to quote a few of the many favorites I found in the collection, most of which focuses on nature. “Of the Empire” has a timely theme:

We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (46).

Some poems have a Zen-like quality. In “Both Worlds,” for instance, Oliver writes,

“I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
and leave the house
for that other world –

the first one
the holy one –
where the trees say
nothing the toad says

nothing the dirt
says nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish
the toad leaps
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise.” (51-52)

Many others have a philosophical bent. This short poem hacks a lot into six lines. “I Ask Percy How I Should Life My Life (Ten) sums up many of Oliver’s sentiments.

“Love, love, love, says Percy.
And run as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then trust.” (55)

In the waning days of 2012, this poem takes me back to Christmas weekend, and the honeymoon we never had. Port Aransas, Mustang Island, Padre Island, the gulf, the hotel pool, walks at night, in the morning, and in the afternoon with quiet dinners alone. How closer can I connect to a poem than that? As I near the thoughts of retirement, Oliver and Percy have found the truth: “Love, love, love.”

Mary Oliver’s collection, Red Bird, deserves a read, and a second closer read, and a third, even closer, and a fourth… 5 stars.

--Jim, 12/30/12 ( )
  rmckeown | Dec 30, 2012 |
This latest volume of Mary Oliver’s poetry, published in 2008, contains many pieces in which she uses her clarity of vision to help us see what she sees and feel what she feels about it, which I consider is a hallmark of her work of the last ten or so years, the poetry of hers with which I’m familiar. In addition to giving us glimpses and insights into nature, I have many times felt I discerned “life lessons” very subtly hinted at although perhaps sometimes this is something I bring to the poem rather than anything Mary Oliver intended. However, in this volume, the “life lessons” in these poems seem to be more overt as if she is now using these observations to help her cope with life as in other volumes she has been helping me cope with mine. She also deals with a wider range of topics in these selections than I have noticed before in her books, including poems that verge on the political and others that are more religious than she has been in the past. In the earlier volumes I have read, especially in Why I Wake Early, she has given me the feeling that she goes to nature for gaining strength and peace in her life and also for her spirituality. In Red Bird, especially, and less intensely in What Do We Know, I feel that in some way life has overwhelmed her and she is struggling to regain that peace from nature she used to have but she is also looking to God now as a source of either strength or comfort and is also being forced to confront what is happening in the world—no longer able to separate it from her poetry. One possible cause of this change that she acknowledges is she is getting older—reaching seventy and feeling that her time is getting shorter. I suspect from some of the poems in this volume that she is also dealing with a tremendous loss—probably of a loved one either through death or separation. This is a powerful book and more personal than the previous work of hers that I’ve read, even than What Do We Know, published in 2002 in which she gives us some personal glimpses of grief over the death of a beloved dog and also some looking beyond nature for spirituality. ( )
  MusicMom41 | Oct 13, 2008 |
The subjects of the Oliver poems are of a naturalistic bent. The collection itself is bracketed by the motif of the red bird which flits throughout the works as a beacon. The poems themselves are rather dark--speaking of night and winter. Even when the setting is spring or summer, it's in the early morning when the darkness is still clinging with tenterhooks. It's the inexorable river images of passing time, the mentions of civilization's disastrous byproducts in the more political pieces, and the dark edges of self-contemplation in the cycle "Eleven Versions of the Same Poem" that emphasizes life as depressing and unpleasant. The only thing that saves life from being truly depressing and unpleasant is the "red bird". Sometimes, this symbol doesn't appear as a red bird at all. It could be aspects of the red bird--like flute players, roses, the coming dawn, the tongue of a panther, apples, berries--which are all vibrant and energetic and as indicated in the collection's final poem, "Red Bird Explains Himself," the soul. (more)
  syaffolee | May 10, 2008 |
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Red bird came all winter / firing up the landscape / as nothing else could.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807068926, Hardcover)

Red bird came all winter / firing up the landscape / as nothing else could. So begins Mary Oliver's twelfth book of poetry, and the image of that fiery bird stays with the reader, appearing in unexpected forms and guises until, in a postscript, he explains himself: "For truly the body needs / a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, / the soul has need of a body, / and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable / beauty of heaven / where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, / and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart."

This collection of sixty-one new poems, the most ever in a single volume of Oliver's work, includes an entirely new direction in the poet's work: a cycle of eleven linked love poems-a dazzling achievement. As in all of Mary Oliver's work, the pages overflow with her keen observation of the natural world and her gratitude for its gifts, for the many people she has loved in her seventy years, as well as for her disobedient dog, Percy. But here, too, the poet's attention turns with ferocity to the degradation of the Earth and the denigration of the peoples of the world by those who love power. Red Bird is unquestionably Mary Oliver's most wide-ranging volume to date.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:49 -0400)

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A collection of poems celebrates the many forms that love can take and bemoans the fate of the natural world.

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Beacon Press

2 editions of this book were published by Beacon Press.

Editions: 0807068926, 0807068934

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